Finding the right form for racing's new boss

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 31 May, 1995, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 31 May, 1995, 12:00am

THE race has started for the selection of the racing boss. It is public knowledge that the incumbent chief executive of the Royal Hong Kong Jockey Club, Major-General Guy Watkins, is to retire in March next year.

A working committee headed by club chairman Sir John Swaine has appointed a headhunting firm to search for a suitable replacement for General Watkins.

Hopefully, the new chief will be installed in the job before the end of the year.

Names are now being suggested and within racing circles guessing games are underway as to who will be the lucky person.

It is a highly respectable job, which entails running a huge organisation with complex responsibilities ranging from organising horse races to the provision of numerous club facilities, chiefly for the territory's elite.

It is also a powerful position, controlling billions of dollars of funds to subsidise a host of charity projects.

Traditionally, the job has been the preserve of retired British generals, with the explanation being that the complexity of the operation means that it requires skills similar to those needed in the army.

The 1997 sovereignty change obviously makes it impossible for the practice to continue and thus the need for the headhunting exercise to find a new chief.

Undoubtedly, the position is one of the most attractive jobs currently on offer.

Power and influence aside, the large salary - comparable to a $5 million remuneration package enjoyed by corporation chiefs has to be a major selling point.

No doubt, many in the territory will be interested in the job. But what is of most concern to the Jockey Club stewards is finding the right person to fill the position for the future.

Sir John and his fellow stewards have spelled out the criteria for the board's selection.

An ideal candidate would be Hong Kong-based, with good knowledge of the local scene, good administrative skills to run a complex organisation, the ability to deal with all levels of influence in the Government and society at large, integrity and acceptability to the general population and a knowledge of and interest in racing.

Finding somebody who possesses all these qualities is not easy. The stewards will also have to have a priority list as to which of these qualities is most important.

With the changing political climate, and given the fact that China will be Hong Kong's future master, some club members may also find it desirable to appoint a chief of the 'right colour'.

That is, a local Chinese candidate may be favoured over candidates of other races.

Such considerations must further limit the pool of potential candidates.

Sir John must be fully aware of these difficulties, and that's why six months ago he made it clear that while the club would be looking to a local person, he was not going to rule out a non-Chinese local.

A candidate with both the right qualifications and a Chinese background would be the most desirable outcome.

The Jockey Club is a very powerful and important organisation in Hong Kong and the last thing the stewards want is to get the wrong person to run it.

The club has come a long way in building up its image and reputation in both the local and international racing worlds, attracting millions of race-goers every season.

It have also proved a welcome partner in many community projects, benefiting many recipients of welfare services.

FACILITIES provided to hundreds of the club's elite members have made the organisation one of the most popular social clubs in Hong Kong.

Unlike the old days when racing was the sole business of the club, its activities have expanded, making it an organisation which also relates to millions of non-racing fans.

It is a big business: each year it receives tens of billions of dollars in racing turnover and allocates billions of dollars to charitable causes.

Therefore, good administrative skills to ensure the smooth running and good co-ordination of the various branches of the club, and the integrity to ensure corruption-free races must be the most important criteria in selecting the new chief.